10 June 2013

Whence the Kirin?

The kirin (qilin) is a mythical animal of Chinese origin, half horse and half dragon, a harbinger of good fortune and world harmony said to appear in conjunction with the arrival and death of great personages.  Mention of it can be traced back in literature and art to the 5th century BCE.  The figure and the meaning attached to it probably reached Japan on one of the ships carrying news of Chinese Buddhism, architecture and kanji written script about a millennium later. 

The kirin engraved on a transom at the Nishihonganji Head Temple in Kyoto. 
Illustration of a kirin in the notes of German physician Engelbert Kaempfer, who served as chief surgeon at the Dutch East India Company factory on Dejima in Nagasaki from 1690 to 1692. 

In present-day Japan, however, the kirin is better known for the animal portrayed on the labels of Kirin Beer Company products than for any traditional artistic representation.  Kirin Beer also has a rather garbled Nagasaki connection, discussed below.
The Japan Brewery Company, predecessor of Kirin Beer Company, was founded in Yokohama in 1885 and began production of its signature "Kirin Beer" in 1888.  The main mover was Scottish entrepreneur Thomas B. Glover (1838-1911), whose famous house is preserved today in Nagasaki's Glover Garden.  Glover exercised his considerable entrepreneurial skills in scouting German brewmasters, drumming up investments from both foreign and Japanese residents, and turning beer into a beverage as popular as sake and shochu in Japanese drinking establishments.  

The first label used by the Japan Brewery Company after its inception in 1885 featured an unidentified animal dancing in front of a rising sun.  Whether or not this was intended to look like a kirin is unclear.  
A new illustration appeared in 1889 and remains in use to this day.  The Japan Brewery Company was disbanded in 1907 and renamed "Kirin Brewery Company," an organization registered in Japan without the assistance of foreigners and based entirely on Japanese capital.

How Thomas Glover and his colleagues came up with the kirin to serve as a company symbol, however, remains a mystery.  Nothing can be found in company records to shed light on the question.  The original label illustration and related documents have also been lost, apparently in the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923.   All we have, therefore, is conjecture.

One unconfirmed theory states that the bushy mustache shown on the animal of the label -- a feature absent in illustrations of the traditional kirin -- was inspired by Glover's trademark mustache and was added as an expression of respect.  But even if that is true, it does not answer the fundamental question as to why and under what circumstances the kirin was chosen as a company symbol.

Another theory has it that the pair of stone komainu (guardian dogs) currently on display in the former Glover House in Nagasaki served as models.  In fact the sign beside the statues states in rather definite terms that this is so.  Several years ago your writer was asked to translate the sign.  I stealthily added the word "perhaps" to the English text because I suspected, correctly as it would turn out, that there is no proof for the supposed connection between the statues and the famous beer.  In fact, not only is there nothing to show that Glover referred to the statues in choosing a logo for his beer, there is no record as to how the statues ended up in his house in the first place.  Someone just threw out a guess, and it stuck to the wall.

The guardian dogs in the sunroom at the former Glover House, with Nagasaki Harbor and Mt. Inasa in the background.   The Japanese explanation board claims that the statues inspired Thomas Glover to choose the kirin as a logo for his new beer, quite a leap of logic considering that the guardian dog and the kirin are entirely different entities.     

So, let's join in the guessing game.  Fuller’s Brewery, the producer of London Pride and other popular British brands, has been operating in the Chiswick suburb of West London since 1845.  The company emblem is the griffin, a legendary creature of European origin similar to the kirin in use and meaning but combining a lion with an eagle instead of a dragon with a horse.  Perhaps Thomas Glover or one of his British colleagues 1) remembered the griffin when looking around for a name, 2) heard from Japanese friends that Japan and China had something remarkably similar, and 3) decided to use the kirin as a trademark.  This is pure conjecture, but it seems far more plausible than the guardian dogs. 

The insignia of Fuller's Brewery, showing the griffin symbol.

16 May 2013

Peace Promotion?

The municipal government of Nagasaki regularly calls for the "abolition of nuclear weapons" and the "promotion of lasting world peace" in one sentence.  The mayor of Nagasaki delivers a public "Peace Declaration" every year on the August 9 anniversary of the atomic bombing and, with minor adjustments, trots out the same message each time, namely the assertion that world peace cannot be achieved as long as nuclear weapons exist.

Once a year, several Nagasaki high school students are nominated "Peace Messengers" and dispatched to the United States and other countries.  The purpose is to convey information about the horror of the atomic bombing; the reward is praise at home for valiant "peace activities."  Whenever I read the news, I imagine the naive teenagers crying in their hotel rooms at night after facing questions on topics such as Pearl Harbor, Korean comfort women and the Bataan Death March -- not to mention factors hindering global security such as economic disparity, environmental degradation and religious conflict -- about which of course they know little if anything.

Ironically, the current Japanese government seems to regard nuclear weapons as necessary for peace.   Japanese officials recently refused to approve a joint statement aired at the second session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in Geneva.  The explanation was that Japan’s national security is protected under the American nuclear umbrella, making it impossible to advocate statements like, "It is in the interest of the very survival of humanity that nuclear weapons are never used again, under any circumstances."  In other words, Japan needs American nuclear weapons to keep China and North Korea at bay and to maintain peace in the region.  I wonder how the mayor of Nagasaki intends to deal with this in his next “Peace Declaration."

Another reason to question Nagasaki City's motivation in waving the peace placard is the conflict of interest represented by tourism.  Just as the "Peace Dome" is Hiroshima's hottest attraction, the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum is second only to the Glover Garden theme park as Nagasaki's most popular tourist destination. Statistics published by Nagasaki City show that 644,391 and 933,660 people visited the two facilities, respectively, during the year 2012.  The restored Dutch East India Company Factory on Dejima came in a distant third at 393,807 visitors.

Despite the inclusion of the name on the above list of tourist facilities -- and despite the enormous revenue gained from admission fees -- Nagasaki City insists that the museum's mission is to promote peace, not to attract tourists.  However, the tourist stamp from the early postwar years shown below suggests that tourism and "peace promotion" have always been two sides of the same coin.

Tourist stamp from the 1950s.  The stamp has the characters meaning "Nagasaki Tourist Memento" on the bottom with an image of the atomic bomb mushroom cloud rising above the city and the popular tourist attractions Oura Catholic Church and Sofukuji Temple (left) shown below. 
The government led by Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has raised eyebrows in recent weeks for its increasingly nationalistic rhetoric and its efforts to revise the Japanese constitution, particularly Article Nine prohibiting acts of war by the state.  The prime minister has also been busy during trips abroad trying to sell nuclear reactors to developing countries.  After the Pandora's Box of Fukushima and all the problems it unleashed -- as well as the scourge of radiation generated by the 1945 atomic bombings -- shouldn't Japan be the world's foremost proponent of alternative energy?

To conclude, one more peace-related photograph: 

The official name of the pachinko (pinball gambling) parlor on the corner of Nagasaki's main downtown intersection is "Peace Park."  No one seems to find this odd or inappropriate, even though the city has a famous park of the same name located near the atomic bomb hypocenter, a sacrosanct space supposedly designed to appeal to the world about the importance of "peace."

26 April 2013

Etched in Stone

After the end of his second term as President of the United States, Ulysses S. Grant embarked with his wife on a two-year tour of the world, traveling west via Europe, Egypt, Thailand and China.  The entourage arrived in Nagasaki on June 21, 1879.  It was the first time for an American president, incumbent or retired, to step foot in Japan, and Nagasaki was the illustrious visitor's first stopover.  The reason for Nagasaki's precedence in the visit was twofold: 1) it was the closest Japanese port to Shanghai, the Chinese city from which the entourage sailed, and 2) it had an established American community and was already well known abroad as a fabled former haunt of Portuguese Jesuits, Chinese mariners and Dutch opperhoofden.  

In his 1880 book "Grant's Tour Around the World," J.F. Packard describes the arrival of the American party in Nagasaki as follows:
The landing-place had been arranged, not in the foreign section nor the Dutch concession, carrying out the intention of having the reception entirely Japanese. Lines of troops were formed, the steps were covered with red cloth, and every space and standing spot and coigne of vantage was covered with people.  The General's boat touched the shore, and with Mrs. Grant on his arm and followed by the Colonel, the Japanese officials, and the members of his party, he slowly walked up the platform, bowing to the multitude who made this obeisance in his honor.  There is something strange in the grave decorum of an Oriental crowd—strange to us who remember the ringing cheer and the electric hurrah of Saxon lands.  The principal citizens of Nagasaki came forward and were presented, and, after a few minutes' pause, our party stepped into jinrickshaws and were taken to our quarters…  Our quarters in Nagasaki had been prepared in the Japanese town.  A building used for a female normal school had been prepared.  It was a half mile from the landing, and the whole road had been decorated with flags, American and Japanese entwined, with arches of green boughs and flowers. Both sides of the road were lined with people, who bowed low to the General as he passed. On reaching our residence the Japanese officials of the town were all presented.  Then came the foreign consuls in a body, who were presented by the American Consul, Mr. Mangum.  After this came the officers of the Japanese vessels, all in uniform.  Then came a delegation representing the foreign residents of all nationalities in Nagasaki, who asked to present an address…  There were dinners and fetes during our stay in Nagasaki, some of which I may dwell on more in detail.  The Governor of the province gave a State dinner on the evening of the 23d of June, served in French fashion; one that in its details would have done no discredit to the restaurants in Paris.
Packard provides a detailed description of the brief stay in Nagasaki but omits one significant event: the tree-planting ceremony held at Suwa Park (Nagasaki Park) on the day after Grant's arrival.  Interestingly, the people of Nagasaki remembered the tree-planting ceremony better than any other aspect of the visit.  The handwritten note presented by Grant to Governor Utsumi on the occasion was not only preserved in local archives but also carved verbatim onto a monument placed beside the planted trees.  The note read as follows: "Nagasaki Japan, June 22nd, 1879.  At the request of Governor Utsumi Tadakatsu, Mrs. Grant and I each planted a tree in the Nagasaki Park.  I hope that both trees may prosper, grow large, live long, and in their growth, prosperity and long life be emblematic of the future of Japan."

When an American tourist party visited Nagasaki in 1910, a welcoming group issued three commemorative postcards on the theme of Ulysses S. Grant's 1879 visit, no doubt regarding it as a highlight of American-Japanese friendship in the city.   A photograph of the former president taken in Nagasaki was printed on one of the postcards along with a copy of the above handwritten note.  

Needless to say, the welcoming group had no way to know that an atomic bomb dropped from an American B-29 bomber would devastate Nagasaki only 35 years later, or that the image on the postcard would be the only copy of the handwritten note remaining after the destruction of Nagasaki City Hall by fire in 1958. 

One of the colorful postcards issued by the Nagasaki welcoming group in 1910 bears a photograph of former American President Ulysses S. Grant taken here in 1879 and a copy of his message to the citizens of Nagasaki.  A close-up of the message is shown below.

 Soon after the visit of Ulysses S. Grant and his wife to Nagasaki in 1879, a monument was erected beside the trees planted by the couple in Suwa Park.  The monument remains intact to this day, despite the hatred that flared between the United States and Japan during World War Two.  Few people may notice it, but Grant's handwritten note, inscribed like a carbon copy on the stone, is also clearly evident.

04 April 2013

Hollander Slope

After its inception in the early 17th-century, the Tokugawa Shogunate launched a step-by-step effort to expunge the influence of Christianity and to limit the activities of Europeans to trade.   In 1634, a group of Nagasaki merchants agreed to construct an artificial island in the harbor to confine Portuguese residents, accepting assurances from the Shogunate that they would be richly rewarded in the form of rental fees.  The fan-shaped island, called "Dejima" (protruding island), reached completion in 1636, but Japanese authorities lost patience with the Portuguese and expelled them from the country only three years later.  Dejima remained empty until the Dutch East India Company agreed to move its factory (trading post) there in 1641.

From that year onward, Nagasaki served as the only place in Japan where foreigners could reside.  Chinese trade was also confined to Nagasaki, and from 1689, Chinese residents agreed to move into a walled-in quarter in the Juzenji district with restrictions similar to those imposed at Dejima.
Despite the rigid separation, however, relations among the Japanese, Chinese and Dutch were generally cordial: in contrast to other parts of Japan, where the only foreigners encountered by ordinary people were those portrayed in exaggerated images in woodblock prints, the people of Nagasaki used the affectionate terms achasan and orandasan to refer to their foreign co-inhabitants.  Once all the rules had been settled, Nagasaki entered a period of peace and prosperity as Japan’s only officially open port, with the Chinese living in their spacious quarter in the Juzenji district, the Dutch ensconced on Dejima, the Japanese community scattered over 77 traditional blocks or machi, and everyone profiting directly or indirectly from the foreign trade.

Late 19th-century view of Dejima, looking over the rooftops of Western-style houses in the Oura neighborhood of the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement.

By the time Japan re-opened the national doors in 1859, the people of Nagasaki were using the word oranda to refer, not only to the Dutch on Dejima, but to everything European, such as oranda ryōri (European cuisine), oranda bochi (foreign cemetery) and oranda yashiki (Western-style house).  People in other parts of Japan tended to refer to Caucasians with xenophobic and racially charged words like ijin and gaijin, but Nagasaki residents continued to use the affectionate if inaccurate term orandasan (Hollander) to refer to Westerners of all nationalities.
The construction of the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement began in 1860.  The Shogunate (and later Meiji government) conducted the groundwork and the laying of stone-paved roads, gutters and steps reaching up into the hillside residential neighborhoods of Higashiyamate and Minamiyamate.  Foreign residents were allowed to own the buildings they erected but paid an annual land rental fee to the Japanese government based on the area of each lot.

While this was going on, the people of Nagasaki began to call the flagstone-paved hillside paths orandazaka (Hollander Slope), as usual the implication being, not that the paths had anything directly to do with the Netherlands, but that they were used on a daily basis by the orandasan (i.e. Euro-American residents) living in the foreign settlement.

The former Nagasaki Foreign settlement was still dotted with 19th-century buildings after World War II but memories of the foreigners who once lived there had mostly faded.  Japanese tenants occupied the empty houses in the residential neighborhoods of Minamiyamate and Higashiyamate, one large family to a room, plugging fireplaces to keep out draughts, plastering the walls with pictures, and covering the old wooden floors with tatami mats.

In 1966, the owner of the Western-style house at No.25 Minamiyamate agreed to sell the building to the "Meiji Village" theme park in Aichi Prefecture, but all the information he could provide about the history and characteristics of the house was that it was an oranda yashiki (lit. Dutch house).  Hearing this, the Meiji Village curators launched an investigation assuming that a Dutch family had built the house or a least lived there for much of its history, but they ran into a wall until finally realizing that the term oranda yashiki was being used in a manner unique to Nagasaki.

Today, the former Nagasaki Foreign Settlement has gained attention for its unique architecture and ikokujōcho (exotic atmosphere), and the "Hollander Slope" in Higashiyamate is a popular tourist destination introduced widely in photographs and picture postcards.  But most of the people who come to visit the famous flagstone path may not notice that it reflects, not another aspect of Nagasaki's historical relationship with the Netherlands, but a culture of tolerance, cooperation and coexistence fading quickly in the wake of urban development.

"Oranadazaka" shown on the cover of a picture postcard collection of the 1970s.  The old Western-style houses at No.13 (right) and No.12 Higashiyamate are used today as a community center and museum, respectively.